“Slipping Through My Fingers”, from ABBA’s album Visitors, is an indie-meets-folk-pop song that is anything but unknown. Having garnered hundreds of millions of streams, forming multiple TikTok trends, and hailing from one of pop’s most well-known groups, the song is definitely well-loved. Yet the song means more to me than just background music or a catchy melody. When I listen to this song, I can’t help but think of my parents and how they must be feeling now: how, for the first time in 23 years, their two children walked out of the house, when the silence now covers the walls, flowing from the melancholy ceilings. The song is about a mother’s realization of how quickly her daughter is growing up as she prepares for school – how she wishes to reach out and grab what is left of her daughter’s childhood and hold her close to his heart forever, but she can’t. The song reminds me of my own parents, but more specifically my father. Maybe it’s because my mom has always been more vocal about how she feels about us leaving. Maybe it’s because I never thought to ask myself how my father felt. Or maybe it’s just because he’s an ABBA fan. But whatever the reason, for those three minutes and 53 seconds, I can’t stop thinking about my dad and my relationship.
My dad never shared a lot of the music he listened to with us. For as long as I can remember, a silence during our car rides was averted by blasting out all the artists my brother and I had settled on at the time. It all started with the “Barney & Friends” soundtrack. Over time, we went from listening to Hannah Montana to listening to Nicki Minaj, before finally moving on to Faye Webster. My father didn’t complain too much about not having aux. He did, however, comment and criticize every song we played. He would praise my brother’s choice of Kanye West 808 and heartache album until he focused on the lyrics, when he criticized both the explicit nature of the song and us for choosing to listen to it. Other times he drummed forcefully on the steering wheel, missing every beat by a second, overpowering the sound of the actual beat when Selena Gomez & the Scene was on. Occasionally he would nod his head or gently pat his leg, making a crinkling noise from the fabric of his shorts, when I played Katy Perry. He would compliment Taylor Swift’s sweetness too much Folklore and asking him if this was his new album he heard about on the news and complaining about the volume of Icona Pop’s “I Love It” every time I played it in elementary school. But every once in a while he would line up for some Bon Jovi and ABBA, a Michael Jackson CD or some Tamil CDs of a movie he had made us watch many times and refused to change it no matter how much we begged him, pushing our hands away every time we tried to reach for his phone or the CD eject button. We complained, even more than he would about our music. To us, his music was antiquated, older than the second-hand dresser that sat in the guest bedroom my parents bought when they first moved to America. It’s older than the striped green Toyota Camry that sat for years in front of our house with broken brakes and an awfully loud engine that my dad somehow refuses to get rid of, and older than my mother’s collection of crumpled sarees that haven’t been worn in over 25 years, neatly tucked away in broken suitcases that smell of faded mothballs on top of my mother’s closet. It was old, and I, at seven, hated every second of it.
I can’t remember the first time I heard the song. I can’t remember if it was one of the few ABBA songs my dad played on a road trip, if it was on the way home after he picked me up from school. elementary school or if it was a song I stumbled upon on one of my long nights of building playlists, while searching my entire recommended Spotify for the perfect song to fall asleep to. But I remember the first time it meant anything.
I was sitting in my dad’s makeshift office that he first built for my brother and I to do our homework next to him while he worked. My father was cleaning and reorganizing the office, which had spent the last year with almost as much clutter as some of the houses in “Hoarders”. In the back corner of the room, above a huge roll of orange yarn too heavy for me to pick up, was the new vinyl player my brother and I had bought him for Christmas, which he had just to fix to the wall. It was mounted in the perfect spot as it covered all the imperfections in the faded sky blue wall that was painted with the remnants of my brother’s room. I was too afraid of breaking it to play anything. I think he was as scared as I was since he rushed over to show me how to turn it on. As you might guess by the title, “Slipping Through My Fingers” played. And while I’d heard the song a million times, I pretended it was the first, which I did with many songs my dad showed me recently.
The melody cools my skin, freezing it from the heat of the desk and the heat of the socket to which the record player and speaker are connected. It’s light and airy as if the second the fan swung towards me, I could float above the stale air of the office basement and into a blue sky, much darker but less faded than the old paint on the walls. But something comes out of the white carpet beneath me and tugs at my leg, slowly but still fast enough that I have no choice but to sink into it. The lyrics and the pain in the singers’ voices fill my heart with a heavy sorrow, too heavy to float in the carefree air. So I just stand there, half leaning on the table where I grew up writing spelling words next to my dad because my knees are too weak to stand as they flex slightly hearing the first note. The song consumes me, gnaws at me steadily, but not in the way that I can lose myself in the words or melt into the melody, but where the pain in its voice twists my body, twisting it until every drop of reality flows. , enough to get lost in my bittersweet memories. Where my body uses all the energy it has to fight it off and pull me back into the study, but subconsciously refuses the comfort the bittersweet memories bring.
And seconds into the song, I’m transported beneath my pink and purple cheetah print sheets that defined my elementary and middle school experience, where I got mad at my dad as he wiped a tiny little warm water on my face. to wake me up for school even though he was late for work. I’m now sitting in the backseat of the green Camry as it pulls up a few blocks before my elementary school and refuses to drop me off until I’ve finished breakfast which I didn’t touch . I now help him build countless IKEA furniture sets for the home because he lets me drill a nail or two. I cry at the entrance to the airport saying goodbye to him as we leave for India while he stays home to work. We choose paint colors at Walmart for my bedroom which he has repainted too many times since my favorite color changed every year. I pose for the hundreds of pictures he takes of me every time I try to leave the house wearing anything other than old pajamas. He slips packed food into my backpack to take it back to my college apartment because my parents don’t want me to worry about cooking and not eating enough. He helps me memorize my multiplication tables, then years later he helps me draw my physics diagrams, which he studied just so he could help me. He paints my nails because I can’t get the designs right and asks to do my hair or choose my outfit for the day (usually sarcastic to point out that he thinks his style is better than mine). And he constantly drives to Ann Arbor and back just so he and my mom can see me every weekend.
And after three minutes and 53 seconds, I can tear myself away from this now dark and watery place, but a part of me still remains there and always will, just like the residue of every command hook I have tried to tear from my apartment neatly, as the packaging promises, remains partly stuck to the wall for years. Where a part of me will never recover from the painful but oddly comforting experience. But it’s also a reminder that my father is more than my father. With every song he plays for me, I learn a new part of him. And because of that, I ask him to choose the music for our car rides to Ann Arbor, and every song means something. This is where he can choose a song and tell me about its meaning in his life or what the words mean to him. Where I can learn that the first English song he ever heard was surprisingly “Rasputin”, by Boney M., or that he likes the soundtrack of “Grease”, or how he likes “Bee Movie” because it contains “Here Comes the Sun”. “He’s a man with a whole life ahead of my brother and me and even my mum, and sometimes I forget that. And with music being such a big part of my life, being a way I feel and communicate, there’s no better way for us to bond. And since he has spent over 18 years listening to the music I have chosen, I will do the same. So when he plays me another song I’ve heard hundreds of times, I’ll pretend it’s the first.
MiC columnist Roshni Mohan can be reached at [email protected].